Rush Limbaugh's sexist rants

Nicole Colson reports on Rush Limbaugh's sexist attack on a Georgetown University law student--and the eruption of angry opposition to ignorant bigotry.

Rush LimbaughRush Limbaugh

YOU KNOW you're a jerk when even Don Imus--the racist shock jock who once referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos"--calls you an "insincere pig."

The public outcry against conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has only grown in the wake of his recent on-air tirade against Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke.

Fluke entered the public eye last month when she was due to testify at a congressional hearing about President Obama's mandate that health insurers cover contraception for women. Fluke was prevented from testifying by committee chairman Darrell Issa of California, who said the hearing was focused on "threats to religious freedom"--in other words, listening to the complaints of religious and right-wing groups who objected to the policy.

So Fluke put her testimony on YouTube, speaking about the fact that, without insurance coverage, contraception can cost a woman as much as $3,000 during the three years it takes to go to law school. She also talked about a friend who ultimately lost an ovary as a result of being unable to afford hormonal contraception.

It was this--daring to speak about the fact that some women are unable to afford contraception--that sent Limbaugh over the edge. He took to the airwaves last week to call Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her belief that insurance should fully cover the cost of birth control.

"Can you imagine if you're her parents how proud of Sandra Fluke you would be?" he said. "Your daughter...testifies she's having so much sex she can't afford her own birth control pills, and she agrees that Obama should provide them, or the pope...Three thousand dollars for birth control in three years? That's a thousand dollars a year of sex--and she wants us to pay for it."

In the days afterward, Limbaugh got even more offensive, suggesting that Fluke videotape her sexual activities and post them online: "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives and thus pay for you to have sex...we want you to post the videos online so we can all watch."

Limbaugh added that Fluke must have "boyfriends lined up around the block...She's having so much sex that she's going broke, she says... You're worried here that I'm just stepping in it deeper, yes, you are--but this is the truth.'

Sadly, it seems that no one explained to Rush that birth control pills don't work like Oxycontin, a drug he has more experience with. For birth control, you take just one pill a day, every day, regardless of how many times you have sex.

But even if he grasped this fact, a conservative like Limbaugh wouldn't let it stand in the way of telling women what to do with their bodies.

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THANKS TO an outraged public and the use of social media, complaints about Limbaugh's sexism began pouring into the advertisers on his radio show--and companies have abandoned him like rats from a sinking ship.

So far, at least 12 advertisers and sponsors--including Sears, Allstate Insurance, AOL, ProFlowers, Quicken Loans and Sleep Train Mattresses--have pulled ads from the show. Limbaugh also appears to have been dumped by at least one--hopefully the first of many--radio station. And musician Peter Gabriel, who discovered that his song "Sledgehammer" was playing in the background during Limbaugh's tirade, demanded that his music never be used on the show.

The bad press and fleeing sponsors forced Limbaugh to offer what he called an "apology" to Fluke--in which he said, incredibly, that he never meant to attack her personally. "I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation," he said.

Calling someone a slut and a prostitute, and saying she has men waiting around the block for sex--why would anyone take that as a personal attack?

The pressure on Limbaugh's advertisers is a welcome start, but it certainly hasn't crippled his mega-business, which makes him $38 million a year, just on his radio show.

The truth is that Limbaugh is sexist to the core, and over the years, he's made no secret of his contempt for women in general, and feminists in particular. He referred to then-13-year-old Chelsea Clinton as the "White House dog," he declared that feminism "was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream," and he commented "There are plenty of lard-ass women in politics, and they get a total pass on it."

Limbaugh is also a not-so-secret racist, who attempts to pass off his bigotry as one long pathetic joke.

Almost as ridiculous as Rush's "apology" to Sandra Fluke was watching leading Republicans try to condemn his remarks--without really condemning them.

The most Mitt Romney could muster was to say that Rush's remarks were "not the language I'd have used." (Coincidentally, it turns out that Clear Channel, which owns the company that distributes Rush's show, is co-owned by Bain Capital--a company cofounded by Mitt Romney.)

Newt Gingrich said Limbaugh was right to apologize--before telling Meet the Press's David Gregory that the "elite media" was spending too much time focusing on Limbaugh and not enough on rising gas prices, the deficit and other Republican talking points.

On the other hand, Ron Paul--proving that even a broken clock is right twice a day--said something resembling the truth when he commented that Limbaugh's apology only came "because some people were taking their advertisements off of his program. It was his bottom line he was concerned about."

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THE TRUTH is that none of the Republicans care about women's reproductive rights or health. Nor do they care, really, about Limbaugh's sexist tirades. That's because they depend on such repugnant politics to whip up their electoral base.

Limbaugh is one of the many repellant conservatives who made a career in the 1980s and 1990s as part of the right-wing talk industry. Today, AM and satellite radio programs from the likes of Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly and others are part of promoting a socially backward conservative agenda toward a whiter, older America that is disproportionately more likely to listen to talk radio.

Republican politicians occasionally balk at some of the more aggressively racist or sexist things such commentators spew out on the airwaves, but in reality, whipping up the Republican Party's conservative base is part of every election cycle. The Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world are the foot soldiers of the modern Republican Party.

As Sandra Fluke stated in a segment on The View:

I was of course shocked and stunned. I think any woman who has been called these types of names is at first. But then I tried to see this for what it is, and I believe that what it is is an attempt to silence me, to silence the millions of women, and the men who support them, who have been speaking out about this issue and conveying that contraception is an important health care need that they need to have met in an affordable, accessible way.

Although Democrats have offered support for Fluke--including a personal call from Barack Obama--the truth is that the party machine has mainly used the attack on Sandra Fluke as a pitch to ask for donations for Democrats candidates in this election cycle, not as an opportunity to push back against the right wing's anti-women rhetoric.

It's tempting to pass off Limbaugh's remarks as just another conservative troll who should be ignored. After all, Limbaugh's bread and butter is whipping up this kind of hateful rhetoric.

But it does matter. Not just for Sandra Fluke, but for all women who have been forced to defend themselves against sexist slurs for daring to assert their right to have control over their own bodies.

It matters for others as well. Take the post written by blogger "Beantown mom" on the Daily Kos website. In it, she explains that she has spent days having to explain to her 16-year-old daughter, who uses hormonal contraception for health reasons, that she is not a "slut":

[F]orgive me if I find no humor in any of this, excuse me if I take no part in celebrating the loss of sponsorship for that pig's radio program. You see, my 16-year-old daughter came home from school on Friday in tears and has been in a state of utter despair since. She was told, in no uncertain terms, that she is a slut, a prostitute, a horny piece of trash that is out to sleep with every guy in school!

The horrid little monsters who started harassing my daughter had the audacity to tell her their mothers were the ones who labeled her with these despicable opinions--they were just "telling it like it is, you know, like that guy on the radio!"

The angry eruption of opposition to Limbaugh is a positive sign that millions of women and men are fed up with sexism--and are ready to say something about it. The outcry mirrored the response of women's rights activists in Virginia who staged a series of increasingly militant protests against a law that would required women to undergo an invasive ultrasound before having an abortion.

On March 3, some 1,000 protesters gathered, circling the Capitol and holding signs reading "No war on women" and "Gov. McDonnell, get out of my uterus." When riot police moved in, the group decided that they would not be moved, sitting in on the Capitol steps. The police eventually dragged them away, arresting at least 31.

That's a much-needed contrast to the Rush Limbaughs of the world.